Port Barton, Palawan

Bangkas line the bay of Port Barton. Many are still used as fishing boats.

Bangkas line the bay of Port Barton. Many are still used as fishing boats.

Go there, NOW! The secret of Port Barton is out, the asphalt is creeping closer to this slice of Filipino paradise and the locals are discovering the lure of tourist dollars. Port Barton offers one of those rare opportunities to do absolutely nothing and not feel guilty about it. Unwind in your bamboo hammock and enjoy that mango cocktail. And when you’re finished, do what the locals do and have a snooze 🙂

Swimming with giant green turtles in Port Barton was one of the highlights of Philippines trip.

Swimming with giant green turtles in Port Barton was one of the highlights of Philippines trip.

I had originally planned to stay just two nights. However after 5 nights of hedonistic island hopping and slamming down bottles of rum till sunrise in El Nido, I needed a bit of rest n’ relaxation. I ended up spending 4 nights and found myself slipping into the Port Barton way of life, which basically means doing absolutely nothing. Perfect. I literally had to drag myself away on my final day, knowing that the next time I return to this charming village it may be completely transformed by mass tourism.

Bangka boats lining the tranquil beach overlooking Port Barton Bay

This tranquil village, set in a magnificent bay is home to just a handful of quaint guesthouses and locally run restaurants. While not as scenic as the sheer limestone cliffs of El Nido, Port Barton offers you the chance to unwind and escape the trappings of modern life – lay back in your bamboo hammock, sip a mango cocktail and while away the hours staring into the calm blue sea.

The locals are more than happy to stop and chat to you, and the kids are more than happy for you to quickly join a game of basketball (even if you are a clumsy Irishman). There are a handful of foreigners – including one Australian who runs a second hand bookshop, he can be found on his doorstep reading all day. Electricity in the town only runs from 6PM – Midnight (usually less), there’s no ATM’s and phone signal can be sporadic. Besides, in a place like this you’re better off leave your phone in your backpack.

There's really not much to do in Port Barton - oh, except this.

There’s really not much to do in Port Barton – oh, except this.

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Traditional fishermen still land their catch on Port Barton beach alongside the brightly coloured island hopping bangkas.

Sleep

For the uber budget backpacker, the rustic Port Barton Homestay, is perfect. The owner, Lielia, is a former backpacker from Manila and runs this delightful small hostel all by herself – with occasional help from neighbours.

Rustic bamboo living with traditional cooking in the Fisherman's village

Rustic bamboo living with traditional cooking in the Fisherman’s village

The hostel is in the fisherman’s village, a 10 minute walk from the centre of Port Barton. It’s has an 8 bed dormitory, a rustic kitchen with a wooden fire and hammock filled garden. Lielia built a super cool bamboo balcony with fantastic views over the bay of Port Barton – grab a bottle of Tanduay rum and watch the boats come and go in the evenings. Lielia will insist you join her for some dinner and a beer or two… you can’t refuse her heartwarming company!

Port Barton Homestay
Cost: 250PHP per night, (each bed has a mosquito net). Book via Facebook.
Lielia can arrange island hopping tours, book your bus to El Nido and Puerto Princessa. Electricity runs between 6pm and Midnight only but wifi usually available 24/7 depending on network signal.

Alternatives (all with electric fans)
Ayette’s Bamboo House 600PHP for double bed cottage. 2 minutes from beach.
Elsa’s Beach House 1,000PHP for beachside double cottage room with electric fan.
El Dorado Sunset Garden Resort 600PHP for twin room in beachside guesthouse. 

Clownfish, thousands of colourful fish and rich coral can be found near Port Barton. And did I mention turtles?!

Clownfish, thousands of colourful fish and rich coral can be found near Port Barton. And did I mention turtles?!

Daily island hopping tours can be arranged via the hostel above or by approaching any of the boat owners on the beach. The tours cost 700PHP (600 if you’re an expert haggler) and includes two coral reefs, German Island, and a fresh BBQ fish and rice lunch on Paradise Island. The bangkas here are small so they are limited to a maximum of 6 passengers, compared to 16 in El Nido. Snorkelling gear is included and the boat owner will also stop at a shallow area where there is a strong chance of snorkelling with turtles.

I was doubtful of this claim at first but within a couple of minutes I was drifting along with a massive turtle swimming right beside me! It was an extraordinary experience and it’s incredible to think that these creatures may well be older than my parents! The coral reefs are still in rude health and are home to hundreds of colourful fish and plenty little Nemos (aka clownfish). Unfortunately warming waters, typhoons and bad fishing practises are leading to a decline in the quality of the reefs.

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It’s a tough life in Port Barton…

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Port Barton (7)

German Island was home to German hermit who lived on the island in a small hut for decades. One day he simply upped and left, never to be seen again.

NomNomNom

Food wise, Gacayan is brilliant. They serve a simple pork/chicken/fish adobo with rice and free soft drink for just 50PHP – by far the cheapest good meal I found in the Philippines. They seem to be open all the time, the breakfasts (Filipino/Euro/American 100PHP) are all hearty and filling while the pork burger (85PHP) is artery clogging brilliance.
Another recommendation I received was the Paella restaurant which specialised in seafood (and of course paella). The food was cold and pretty bland and we left slightly disappointed. The electricity was out that night so maybe the food choices were limited, so I would give it another chance in the future.

Gacayan was the best restaurant I found on Palawan. It serves a bewildering amount of food for seriously low prices.

Gacayan was the best restaurant I found on Palawan. It serves a bewildering amount of food for seriously low prices.

The coldest beers in town can be found at Bayawak, run by a jolly John, an Aussie expat. The burgers are seemingly pretty good here, but I didn’t get to sample one. John is striving to make this the number one bar in Port Barton and seems to be on the right track. He’s a great host and bought everyone at the bar a free round one night. Then again the beers do cost 100PHP, compared with 70 everywhere else! The Greenview guesthouse further on, at the northern end of the beach has live outdoor music most nights and it’s a nice place to listen to some music, sip a beer and star gaze.

After a few cold beers even your hair turns into the shape of coconut trees in Port Barton

After a few cold beers even your hair turns into the shape of coconut trees in Port Barton

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Port_Barton_bus

Minibus capacity 12. Nah, this is the Palawan, we can fit 20 people in. The smallest guy can sit on the drivers lap.

With improvements in the road between Roxas and Port Barton, journey times have improved and savvy entrepreneurs have begun minibus services to Port Barton from Puerto Princessa and El Nido. The road winds through lush forests, rice fields and overtakes farmers strolling home with their water buffalo. The minibus is packed to the max, and I’m fairly certain the guy sitting on the drivers lap was steering while the driver was just changing gears…we got there safely though!

To / From Puerto Princessa: As of November 2015,Recaro transport have minibuses (A/C) that ply the route daily. 350PHP each way (3 – 4 hours). Depart from the back of the San Jose terminal (there’s a huge Port Barton banner) at 0730, 0900, 1100, 1400. It’s a tight squeeze, even the driver may have someone sitting on his lap! Return journeys to PP are at 6AM, 1PM and now also 4PM from the Recaro terminal in Port Barton.
SMS the numbers below to book your places on the minibus – best done a couple of days in advance in December / January:
+63 909 351 3037 (Smart)
+63 905 485 8597 (Globe)

For the more adventurous, hardy traveller, a jeepney (or clapped out non aircon bus) departs San Jose at 9AM and takes over 4 hours. This costs 250PHP, but on a muddy pot-holded road like this you’re going to want the slightly more comfortable minibus. Returns from Port Barton at 9AM.

Getting to Port Barton isn't exactly straight forward - be prepared for anything!

Getting to Port Barton isn’t exactly straight forward – be prepared for anything!

To / From El Nido: Since 2015 there is one minibus from El Nido, departing from the bus terminal at 7AM. Journey time is up to 5 hours depending on weather and the cost is 700PHP – booked directly using the numbers above.
The tourist offices in El Nido will add a mark up of 200PHP to tickets, so best book directly.
A return minibus departs from the Recaro terminal, near the tourist office at 8AM-ish. It’s on Port Barton time, so it could be anytime between 8-9AM. Advisable to book this in advance also.
Another option is to get an early bus from El Nido to Roxas (on the main El Nido – PP route). Ask to be dropped off at the turn off for Port Barton which is a few minutes south of Roxas. From here you can wait for a jeepney from either Roxas or Puerto to Port Barton. Only problem is you may be waiting a long time, and if you leave it late, may have missed the bus altogether.Port Barton (6)

Come on, what are you waiting for?!

Come on, what are you waiting for?!

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